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Members include Bruce Ackley (born in 1948 in Detroit, MI), soprano and tenor saxophones; Steve Adams (born in 1952 in Rockville Centre, NY), alto and sopranino saxophones; Larry Ochs (born in 1949 in New York, NY), soprano and tenor saxophones; Jon Raskin (born in 1954 in Heppner, OR), baritone, alto, and sopranino saxophones. Addresses: Booking and projects--Rova, 333 12th St., San Francisco, CA 94103.

The Rova Saxophone Quartet's unique style extends the boundaries of traditional jazz. Because their lineup consists of four saxophonists--baritone, tenor, alto, and sopranino--their music redefines the rhythmic role usually given to percussion, bass, and piano, a task they fulfill with a great sense of adventure and inventiveness. The group is a celebrated force in North America and Europe and a favorite attraction on the jazz festival circuit. "Our intention was to create an original voice," member Larry Ochs explained to Chicago Tribune contributor John Litweiler, "the way an individual saxophonist wants to create an original voice."

In the course of two decades Rova has built an impressive body of work comprised of original compositions and special commissions, as well as arrangements of modern avant-garde, jazz, and classical music. Additionally, the Rova Saxophone Quartet has collaborated with some of the best-known contemporary musicians, among them Anthony Braxton, Alvin Curran, John Zorn, Steve Lacy, Terry Riley, Robin Holcomb, Butch Morris, Fred Frith, and the string ensemble the Kronos Quartet. Like Rova, the Kronos Quartet also emphasizes the works of living composers.

The Rova Saxophone Quartet formed in the San Francisco Bay Area in the autumn of 1977, compiling its name from the initials of its founding members' surnames: Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt (replaced by Steve Adams in 1988), and Bruce Ackley. They originally joined forces to perform at the third annual Free Music Festival at Mills College in Oakland, California, in February of 1978, but decided to make the project an ongoing effort after hearing the concert tapes. Soon thereafter, the group recorded their debut album, Cinema Rovaté, then in November gave their first major tour performance in Canada for the Vancouver New Music Society.

In May of 1979, after performing at the Keystone Korner in San Francisco, where they opened for the band Air, the quartet traveled overseas for their first European festival, the Moers International Festival of New Jazz in Germany. They also made concert appearances in Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, Nickelsdorf (Austria), Nyon (Switzerland), and New York City.

The next year Rova participated in the Metalanguage Festival of Improvised Music alongside such artists as Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Henry Kaiser, Toshinori Kondo, and Greg Goodman at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall. Taking a break from the tour, the group recorded As Was in April of 1981 at the 1750 Arch Studios in Berkeley, California. In November of that year they appeared in performance with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company. In February of 1982 John Adams commissioned the piece Trobar Clus #10 (The Crowd) for the San Francisco Symphony's New + Unusual Music Series.

The next year, 1983, proved an important one for Rova. In June they became the first American new music group to tour the Soviet Union. The trip was documented on film as Saxophone Diplomacy (also released as a boxed-set recording), which aired on public television stations across the United States. Rova returned to the U.S.S.R. in November of 1989, resulting in the compact disc This Time We Are Both.

"Our music has always been on the brink of entering a new stage whenever we've gone to the Soviet Union," Ochs reflected in a 1992 interview with Bill Shoemaker of Down Beat magazine. "Saxophone Diplomacy marked the end of the earliest stage in '83, when we did music with a lot of energy, what we called our rock & roll stuff. By the time we went back in '89, we had recorded The Crowd and Beat Kennel, where we tightened up the written material, and, by then, Steve Adams had come in, and the ensemble sound got better, and the rhythmic stuff got stronger."

In 1985 the ensemble incorporated its nonprofit branch, Rova:Arts. Dedicated to the development of cutting-edge music and arts, the organization administers the quartet's activities, supports work by other like-minded artists, commissions new work by emerging composers, and educates the public through outreach programs. Since 1999 Rova:Arts, has sponsored two annual concerts, Rovaté and New Music on the Mountain, both of which attract an eclectic audience from the Bay Area. Since its establishment, Rova:Arts has commissioned more that 30 new compositions for saxophone quartet from a wide range of musical disciplines. Grant-funded commissions have been awarded to minimalist composers Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros, avant-garde composers Fred Frith and Anthony Braxton, experimental rock artist Lindsay Cooper, and jazz artists Jack DeJohnette and John Carter, among others. Several of these works appeared on recordings released by Rova Saxophone Quartet, including 1990s Long on Logic (written by Frith and Kaiser), a collaborative effort from 1989 with Braxton entitled The Aggregate, and composer Alvin Curran's Electric Rags II, also recorded in 1990.

Rova Saxophone Quartet marked numerous other achievements during the 1990s as well. Highlights include the premiere of Ochs's The Secret Magritte in September of 1993 in Antwerp, Belgium; a thirtieth-anniversary performance of John Coltrane's Ascension in December of 1995 at the Great American Music Hall; a performance of Jon Raskin's Telegraphing the Temescal with the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in the spring of 1996; an appearance at the inaugural Texaco New York Jazz Festival at the Knitting Factory in New York in June of 1997; and in October of 1997, the Rova twentieth-anniversary tribute at the San Francisco Jazz Festival. The ensemble recorded two albums in 1999 alone: RovaMatic and The Works, Volume 3.

Besides working together as the Rova Saxophone Quartet, individual group members enjoy various outside interests. Ackley, a native of Detroit, is a founding member of the improvising winds trio Sound Clinic; has contributed to the recording sessions of many of Rova's associates; organized the quartet Unchambered with cellist Rohan de Saran, koto player Miya Masaoka, and bassist Stefano Scodanibbio; and leads his own jazz trio called Actual Size.

Adams, a native of Rockville Centre, New York, and graduate of the School of Contemporary Music in Boston, was previously a member of Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet. He has composed music for the California Shakespeare Festival on seven occasions and has written pieces for the Empire Brass Quintet and Marimolin, a violin/marimba duo. In 1993 he received a Reader's Digest/Meet the Composer commissioning grant and has worked as a sideman with such notables as Braxton, Sam Rivers, Dave Holland, Donald Byrd, Jaki Byard, Vinny Golia, and Ted Nugent.

Although Ochs's activities have largely centered around Rova Saxophone Quartet, he finds time to participate in other performance groups as well. From 1986 until 1994 he was a member of the Group Room, a trio of saxophone, piano, and computer electronics and percussion, with Chris Brown and William Winant. His other interests include the International Creative Music Orchestra, formed in 1990 with keyboardist Wayne Horvitz; performing as a guest soloist with the George Lewis Creative Orchestra in 1995; recordings and tours with the John Lindberg Ensemble from 1997 through 2000; and a 1998 tour and recording session in a trio called Maybe Monday, also featuring Frith Masaoka. In 2000 Ochs, along with drummers Scott Amendola and Donald Robinson, organized the trio Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core.

Raskin, born and raised in Oregon, has been a member of several new music ensembles, music director of the Tumbleweed Dance Company, and a founding member of the Blue Dolphin Alternative Music Space prior to the creation of Rova. He has also received a National Endowment for the Arts composer grant, a Reader's Digest/Meet the Composer commissioning grant in both 1992 and 2000, and a Berkeley Symphony commission in 1995. Currently Raskin performs in the Wind Trio of Alphaville and in a trio with George Cresmaschi and Ches Smith. As a leader he recorded The Bass & the Bird Pond in 1999 with alto saxophonist Tim Berne, bassist Michael Formanek, and drummer/cellist Elliot Kavee.

by Laura Hightower

Rova Saxophone Quartet's Career

Group formed in San Francisco, CA, 1977; recorded Cinema Rovaté, 1978; released As Was, 1981; toured U.S.S.R., 1983 and 1989; formed Rova:Arts nonprofit group, 1986; premiered Electric Rags II, 1989; recorded arrangement of John Coltrane's Ascension, 1997; released The Works, Volume 3, 1999.

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over 16 years ago

i just wanna hear a recording of this